Types of Behavioral Research

Research Methods
There are several different types of research methods that are commonly used in the field of psychology. Descriptive research methods focus mainly on data collection and application. This is also known as statistical research and focuses on numerical data about a group, or event. The second major type of is correlational research. Correlational research describes relationships between two variables or factors. Experimental research focuses upon using scientific methods to gather data in order to support theories or hypothesis. Finally, action research is used to develop solutions that can be applied to real problems. Each of these types of research has specific characteristics, and specific applications and one must be careful to choose the appropriate type of research method for the type of research that one is doing.

Descriptive Research
According to Breakwell (2006), descriptive research is simple demographic data about a population, or an event. One example of descriptive research would be the United State Census. The Census gathers data on the number of people living in the United States. This includes births, deaths, type of employment, educational level and other data about the U.S population. This data is used to provide information for the various departments of the United States government when they are applying for grants or funding increases. A second example of descriptive research would data gathered from the Nielsen Ratings. These measure the percentage of people watching a television show, at a given time. This data is used to determine which shows will be given primetime slots, and which shows will be cancelled for the next television season.

Descriptive data has several major strengths. First, data is numerical, which means that it is almost completely objective. Second, numerical data can be useful in a wide variety of research settings. Unfortunately, descriptive research also has several critical weaknesses. First, data from descriptive research cannot be used to show cause and effect. It will only tell you how many people have a certain opinion, or how much of something there is. Second, numerical data cannot provide correlations between one group or event, and another. Essentially, descriptive data tells a researcher what something is, but now how it got there, why it exists, where it came from, or who it applies to.

Correlational Research
Correlational research is used primarily to define relationships between groups, events, or sets of data (Schweigert, 2006). Correlational research is often done as a precursor to other more in-depth types of research. For instance, correlational research can be used to demonstrate that a relationship exists between eating fast food, and being overweight. Correlational research is most effective when one is trying to prove relationship between two or more variables within a specific group or series of events.

Correlational research has several strong points in terms of psychological research. First, it can be used in the early stages of a research study to support hypotheses that state that a relationship exists between two different variables. Correlational research can also be useful in research studies in which the entire study is based upon proving a relationship exists, between variables not necessarily the extent of the relationship, or the cause and effect of the relationship.

There are also weaknesses to this type of research. First, correlational research only identifies the existence of a relationship. It does not identify the strength of the relationship, or the direction of the relationship. Second, correlational research cannot be used to demonstrate cause and effect. This means that if a researcher is looking for the causes of a specific mental illness, correlational research methods might not be the most appropriate methods to use.

Experimental Methods
Experimental research methods typically use scientific research methods to prove a hypothesis about a specific variable or set of variables. According to Breakwell (2006), this type of research is done after one has completed a correlational study in order to determine the existence of a relationship between variables. Other characteristics of experimental research include the manipulation of the independent variable in order to achieve a specific result, or results in terms of the dependent variables. Experimental research methods also involve developing a hypothesis, which is essentially what the researcher expects to happen in a study.

The experimental method has several strong points in terms of psychological research. First, there is more control over the variables, or groups and events that one is trying to study when using experimental methods. The data gathered during experimental research is also more objective than that gathered during correlational studies, or actions research.

The experimental method also has several important weaknesses. First, the experimental method is not particularly useful if you are looking to resolve real, rather than hypothetical problems. Second, the experimental method does not necessarily result in studies that are valid, reliable, and generalizable. The results of an experimental study are only as reliable and valid as the research design. If the research design is flawed, or the researcher analyzes the data incorrectly the experiment will be flawed.

Action Research
Action research is a type of research method that is specifically designed to create solutions for real life problems. According to Schweigert (2006), action research typically takes place in the field. This can be in a business, a school, a human services organization, or a medical facility. Sometimes the organization will hire a professional team of researchers to conduct the action research but, most often it is conducted by psychologists, teachers, and managers in their place of work.

Action research can include a variety of other qualitative and quantitative research methods. Commonly these methods may include surveys, observational studies, focus groups and interviews. The research typically includes three stages, planning, transformation, and output (Schweigert, 2006). The planning stage includes, figuring out what problem you are trying to solve, collecting information about the problem and developing a series of solutions about the problem. The second stage, transformation involves choosing a specific solution to the problem being addressed and implementing it. The final stage is output. This stage involves gathering and analyzing data in order to determine if the chosen solution was effective or not. If the solution was ineffective the researcher may then choose to explore some of the other solutions that were developed at the beginning of the study and the process begins all over again.

Much like the previous three types of research, action research too has its strengths and weaknesses. The main strength of this research design is that it can utilize several different research designs in such a way that they are applicable to real life situations. The main weakness of this study is that it cannot be used if one if looking at hypothetical research questions rather than solving real life problems for your agency or organization.

Choosing a Research Method
The research method that would be the most effective in terms of the research question that was developed in Module One would be the correlational method. The correlational method seeks to prove that relationships exist between two or more variables .Given that this would be the initial step in a more extensive research project this seems to be the most appropriate method at this time.

In order to perform a correlational study one must first have two variables, and an independent variable and a dependent variable. The purpose of this is so that one variable can be used to predict a relationship with the other variable. For instance, one can claim that eating fast food frequently (independent variable) is related to being overweight (dependent variable). One should also remember that one cannot definitively state that one causes the other because correlation is not equivalent to cause and effect (Breakwell, 2006).

There are several research methods that could be used in performing a correlational study. These can include surveys, assessment instruments like the Minnesota Multi-Phasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), ratings scales, or descriptive statistics gathered from descriptive research such as demographic information. Typically when performing correlational research one first identifies ones variables. The second step is to create a hypothesis. The third step involves data collection and analysis. Finally one analyzes the results of the research in order to determine a correlation.

The correlational method is effective in this case because there really is no clear cause and effect for this specific research question as of yet. A correlational study will help the researcher to discover if there is a relationship between the variables that have been chosen, in order to determine if further study is needed in order to decide if one of the variables causes the other to occur.

It can be concluded that for the purposes of this specific research question correlational research would be the most effective method at this time. It is simple and effective and it fits the goal of determining whether or not a relationship exists between the two variables defined by the research question. This will allow the researcher to determine if further study needs to be done at a later date to determine causal relationship in order to support a hypothesis.


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